King of the Sandcastle

Sand Castle Water Park. Managing Director John Childs.
Sand Castle Water Park. Managing Director John Childs.
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Sandcastle Waterpark reopens tomorrow for the season - with a 15 year vote of confidence in the management there.

John Child started working at the Sandcastle - as was - as a lifeguard 27 years ago.

He became the lifeline of the initially ailing attraction, helping transform it into the multi-award winning all weather draw it is today.

John is managing director of Sandcastle Waterpark today. It is the UK’s top water park. It is one of the world’s leading water parks. John has a seat on the board of the World Water Park Association. Others regularly beat a path here, private operators, councils, international businessmen. Sandcastle Waterpark reopens tomorrow for the 2013 season. Sixteen straight days initially, then weekends only until it reopens daily from March 23.

Guests will notice changes. There are more to come when a new look entrance complete with waterfalls is built - designed to lure locals as well as visitors through to the cafe for it’s a great spot to avoid the excesses of the British summer even if you don’t fancy a swim.

John’s fought the corner of the Sandcastle for cash to build on what was being achieved there. His single minded determination to make good on the council’s bailing out of the once troubled waterpark saw the vote of confidence returned – 15 fold – this month.

What was once considered a drain on resources is now a positive plus and councillors on Blackpool’s executive extended the Blackpool Operating Company’s lease by a further 15 years. That effectively means it continues to be run at arm’s length management from Blackpool Council.

It’s more than a breathing space – it’s a bonanza for the attraction which initially faced three other options for its future: sale, a new private partner or bringing it in-house (run by the council).

Converts to the cause include Coun Eddie Collett, once one of the most vocal in support of “putting it right and selling it”, and now convinced it’s a “fantastic organisation.”

He adds: “There is so much they can show others, and other big providers in the town should be looking at how they operate.”

The Sandcastle can rightly claim to be all-weather and the striking facade, with its loops and curves of impressive water ride chutes, often disguises just how many are queueing within. It’s virtually halved its customer capacity in favour of providing more rides and facilities and the policy has paid off. The new entrance will enhance its appeal.

John adds: “Essentially it’s a very nice place on the Promenade to come into to get out of the cold. We’ve moved the amusement machines – not really part of our branding – and changed the seating area and upgraded the whole offer. You could be anywhere in the world.”

Under his management, the controversial Madam Carnesky’s Ghost Train is said to have turned a small profit too.

“We’ve had Carnesky for six years and it’s a challenge but it’s just above breaking even. It’s in a lot better position than it was and it makes sense for our maintenance people to check it out. We make the best of what we’re given.”

The team is part of an influential lobby for a £1m Tourism Academy to boost the town’s skill base and offer 40 apprenticeships.

This season’s innovations include a cashless service so customers can pre-load credit to wristbands rather than return to lockers for cash for purchases. Blackpool’s new high adrenaline £2.5m slides, Montazooma and Aztec Falls, are back with a vengeance. The Aztec themed attractions put the park at the forefront of the industry and saw global water park representatives beat a path to its door.

The installation was delayed by builders discovering a 20ft deep “secret” chamber, with a door leading off to another room, which turned out to be a bunker built in the early ‘40s. Pumping equipment also found there was from the original open air baths.

Prior to the £2.5m council investment the last major spend at the Sandcastle was £3.5m on the Master Blaster chute in 2006, the longest water ride in Europe at the time.

John concludes: “It’s been a leap of faith for us all. Our priority is investment, expertise and imagination – and capital protection.

“It’s tempting to try to do everything you want but it’s all about cash flow. We have slowly but surely refurbished.

“A lot of water parks around the UK need to spend a lot of money on general maintenance. Come here and it’s like new build – people are shocked to learn it is 27 years old.

“We are now drawing up a master plan for further phases. You have to think strategically today. You can’t blindly invest, you have to know your product and your visitor trends. And visit as a guest – because you see things differently and become a better manager.

“Blackpool definitely offers opportunities still. And we have a model here that works. We’re already the best in the UK. We want to get even better globally.”